Spearfish Canyon, SD

Finding beauty and inspiration can be hard in the bleak month of January. For a writer, however, inspiration is important. John Keats once said, “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” I’m no poet, but I do believe there is truth in his words. Some days, the words come more naturally than others, but when I’m at a loss, I often look to nature for inspiration. It’s amazing the places it leads.

Two winters ago, I took a trip to Spearfish, SD, with my sister. It was a free trip for me, as she was traveling for work, and I was able to tag along. At the time, I’d been thinking about writing a new series. I had been to the Grand Canyon the previous summer and thought it would be neat to set a series in various national parks. Being familiar with cozies, however, I understood that most readers of this genre enjoy getting to know the town of their amateur sleuth. I certainly enjoy it, and my writing is very much place-based. I delve into descriptions and details of my sleuth’s surroundings. So moving each book to a new park wouldn’t work for me or my readers.

Spearfish Canyon Lodge, one of my favorite places to stay in the heart of the Black Hills

But the idea never left, and when I traveled to Spearfish Canyon many months later, I found my solution. Here was a beautiful canyon within the Black Hills National Forest, a place I’d spent much time as a child and adult. The Black Hills is the vacation destination for most South Dakota families, or at least it was for mine. We didn’t get on planes or trains or boats. We got in the car and traveled across the state via I-90 West. The Black Hills holds happy memories for me and lots of the visitors I’ve heard from since. It is the perfect setting for a cozy mystery.

Bridal Veil Falls

I’ve always been fascinated by a place within a place, or as Poe wrote, “a dream within a dream.” Like the college campus, Spirit Canyon—the fictional town of my new series—is its own mystery. It’s full of legends and lore, like the Black Hills itself. Zo Jones, my protagonist, is also a bit of an enigma. She doesn’t know her birth parents, which is a question she will answer over the course of the series. But she knows what she wants for herself and her eclectic gift shop, Happy Camper. The store is filled with all the novelties you might find on a vacation to South Dakota: pictures of bison, handcrafted pottery, colorful postcards, and feel-good wall art and memorabilia. I think you’re going to love it here. I know I do, even in January.

I love the way the sun rises over the canyon.

No matter the month, we can find inspiration. For me, that means taking a walk or a trip or looking at an idea from a different perspective. What does it mean for you? Share your tips! We could all use a few thoughts to get us through until spring.

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